Government funding and labor shortages were key issues at the annual convention of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, in January.
Two of the resolutions passed by delegates dealt with concerns about government funding, despite an announcement about the continuation of a government-funded replant program.
Delegates voted to continue lobbying government for a long-term replant program and to urge the province to increase funding to agriculture from the current 3.3 percent of agriculture’s gross domestic product to 16.4 percent, the average of the other provincial governments.
"Replant is one of the key activities for the industry as identified in the Tree Fruit Industry Strategy," said Joe Sardinha, who was reelected BCFGA president.
Last July, Minister of Agriculture Pat Bell presented the BCFGA with Can.$3 million in provincial funding in support of the Tree Fruit Industry Strategy, Sardinha said. With interest from growers to continue the replant program, the BCFGA designated that funding for replant and plans to administer the new program.
He assured growers that the funding will be in place for spring 2008 plantings, but said more effort would be needed soon to secure additional funding from the province for a multiyear tree fruit replant program.
A Can.$5 million federal program, the Orchards and Vineyards Transition Program, is also expected to provide funding for replant projects.
"The BCFGA has worked very hard together with the [B.C.] Grapegrowers Association to link the federal removal program to replant," Sardinha said. "We have been unsuccessful, but we still have two programs, one being the removal and replant program federally and the replant provincially."
John Berry, regional director of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, confirmed the transition program that was initiated last year would soon be tied into an agreement with the province.
"We are getting a federal-provincial agreement together to get the program into action," he said. "We’re not quite there. We fully expect we will be implementing that shortly. The federal part of that is a bit of money for strategic planning and money for removal, which dovetails with provincial money for replant."
Sardinha stressed there is no program funding for planting on new land or to other crops. "We want to be very clear that this program is not being offered for planting from tree fruits to grapes."
Delegate Allan Patton expressed concerns about the current trend of apples being replaced by grapes and a government removal program that "stimulates a monoculture in overall valley industry."
"We find it difficult to prescribe exactly what people should do, and the intent from our end is to allow producers to make decisions that best suit their operation," responded Berry.
On the labor front, the BCFGA has launched a number of programs to deal with a chronic shortage of farm help.
The main initiatives, said Dr. David Geen, chair of the labor committee, were to open a seasonal agriculture labor office in Oliver, supervise orientation sessions for new workers, distribute job opportunities to employment service agencies, and write a seasonal agriculture worker handbook and an employer handbook.
The BCFGA will lobby the province to develop a seasonal farm labor housing bylaw template to address inconsistencies. And the federal government will also be urged to allow foreign students and youth travellers to be given quick access to work visas to allow them to harvest perishable crops in Canada.